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Gay man in fight for husband's pension rights 'confident' of Supreme Court win

A gay man fighting to win his husband the same pension rights a wife would enjoy in a heterosexual relationship described feeling "confident" as he began the final round of his legal battle.

Ex-cavalry officer John Walker, 65, is hoping that five justices at the Supreme Court in London will overturn an earlier ruling against him.

Human rights organisation Liberty, which is representing Mr Walker, says a successful outcome could "dramatically change the lives of thousands of same-sex couples".

As Mr Walker arrived at the UK's highest court on Wednesday, he said: "I am feeling confident. I think common sense will prevail."

Winning the case would be the "icing on the cake" after being able to enter into a civil partnership and then "upgrade" to marriage.

He said: "It would give us total equality with our heterosexually married friends, and complete security."

A ruling in his favour would not only be important on a personal level, but it would also be "incredibly important" for many others in same-sex relationships in a similar position, some of whom had already lost partners.

Mr Walker suffered a defeat at the Court of Appeal in 2015, when judges ruled that his claim failed because it applied to a period before gay civil partnerships were recognised by the law.

He retired from chemicals group Innospec Ltd in 2003 after working for the company for more than 20 years. He had made the same contributions to the pension scheme as his heterosexual colleagues.

Mr Walker and his husband, a former computer executive, have been together since 1993.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on December 5 2005. Mr Walker and his partner entered into a civil partnership in January 2006, which was later converted into a marriage.

Liberty said the case "challenges an exemption in the Equality Act that lets employers exclude same-sex partners from spousal benefits paid into a pension fund before December 2005, when civil partnerships became legal".

It will be argued that the exemption is "discriminatory".

Mr Walker wants to ensure that, should he die first, his husband, 52, will be adequately provided for.

Liberty points out that his husband would receive a pension of only a few hundred pounds a year - but if he was married to a woman, she would be entitled to receive around £45,000 a year for life.

Before the hearing, Liberty lawyer Emma Norton said "many, many others will be suffering the same injustice", adding: "We hope the Supreme Court will drive the law into the 21st century and take a huge step towards equal pension rights for same-sex spouses and civil partners."

Martin Chamberlain QC, for Mr Walker, told the justices in written submissions that he has given evidence of how the pension refusal "dramatically affects his enjoyment of their family life together".

The QC stated: "It has caused them both distress and worry, and is preventing them from spending Mr Walker's savings so as to more fully enjoy the years that may remain to them out of concern that those savings will be needed to mitigate the lack of a spouse's pension should Mr Walker die first."

There have been a number of rulings since Mr Walker launched legal action against Innospec, arguing that it was failing to treat surviving same-sex spouses and civil partners the same as the widows or widowers in heterosexual marriages.

In 2012, an employment tribunal in Manchester ruled that the Innospec pension scheme contravened both European Union (EU) law and the European convention on human rights.

But, in 2014, Innospec challenged that decision at the employment appeal tribunal (EAT).

Allowing Innospec's appeal, the EAT ruled that an exemption in the Equality Act 2010 disapplied pension rights accrued by Mr Walker before December 5 2005, the date the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force and required benefits to be provided equally to civil partners and married couples.

The tribunal held those rights did not have retrospective effect or allow inequalities in pay based on sexual orientation prior to that date to be addressed.

Subsequently, the Court of Appeal refused to set aside the EAT ruling, rejecting Mr Walker's complaint that he and his partner were victims of discrimination and human rights breaches.

A European Framework Directive on equal treatment required the UK to bring in measures, by December 2 2003, designed to combat discrimination on a number of grounds, including sexual orientation.

During the two-day Supreme Court hearing, one of the arguments the judges will hear from Mr Chamberlain is that Innospec's refusal to provide a pension to Mr Walker's husband in the event of his death "amounts to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, contrary to the Framework Directive, regardless of the dates of Mr Walker's service or pension contribution".

The justices were being asked to dismiss Mr Walker's appeal by the Work and Pensions Secretary, who is represented at the proceedings as an "interested party".

In written argument, Jason Coppel QC, for the Government, submitted that the exemption at the centre of the case is "lawful and compatible with the Framework Directive".

He pointed out that the costs involved in "requiring all pension schemes to equalise entitlements retrospectively" would be £100 million for private sector schemes and a further £20 million for public sector schemes.

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